January 6, 2019 Love Letters to the Church in Exile
This morning we stand on the top of a new year and I am happy to admit that my sense of the new year and the end of an old year is very formed by my childhood in my upbringing as I think it probably most many of us are I remember as a kid many years many times at the end of the year. My mom would gather us kids together and shoot. I don't forget. We're getting to the bottom of the year. Don't feel like the bottom. So they just sort of dragon. We're just getting to the end and then and then Christmas would, New Year's with comments. You would say we're at the top the whole years ahead of us. There's nowhere to go but ahead. Is it a good to be at the top of the year? And so we stand here together at the top of the year and at the the stop the start of a new sermon series series that I've been tied up Love Letters to the church in Exile and this is a sermon series especially looking at the book of Jeremiah that one of the Old Testament prophets but a sermon series that has been bouncing around in the back of my brain for almost a year and really formed by Mark Sayers or informed by Mark Sayers who's a who's the pastor of a small Church in Australia? And in the first time this this idea for the sermon ever came to me was reading Mark Sayers book called Strange Days life in the spirit of life in the spirit in a time of upheaval. And Mark Sayers says or compares the church in the West Australia Canada the u.s. Parts of Europe in Great Britain. Where's the church in the west to the Old Testament and says the church is entering a second exile? And then he references the book of Jeremiah and Jeremiah 28 actually and Jeremiah 28. The people are going it have gone into Exile in one of the prophets hananiah says to them. Do not worry. 2 years from now I will break the Yoke, or I will break the Yoke of the king of Babylon within two years. I will bring back to this place all the articles of the Lord's House that Nebuchadnezzar King of Babylon removed. I will also bring back to this place the king of Judah and the other exiled from Judah who went to Babylon.
In other words, the people had gone into Exile they have been removed from God's presence in the temple removed from their homes and they were living in a land where people no longer record. People didn't recognize their God the one true God as God and who did who didn't live like they did live very differently and have no respect or honor for them.
Mark Sayers makes the comment that just as then now to we live in a time and a place where people no longer recognize the god that we know to be God as the one true God. They don't worship the same gods that we do their lives look very different at least they ought to look different from our lives as Christians. And there's pain and longing desire to return back to the way things were the way things used to be.
And then Mark Sayers to those of us living in 2018-2019 and Western Christian in the western church. Excuse me. He says he quotes these words from Jeremiah 29. So this is what the Lord Almighty the god of Israel says to those I carried into Exile from Jerusalem to Babylon build houses and settle down plant Gardens and eat what they produce marry and have sons and daughters find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage so that they too may have sons and daughters increase in number. They are in Exile do not decrease also seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into Exile pray to the Lord for it because of it prospers you to will prosper. Yes. This is what the Lord Almighty the god of Israel says do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have Are prophesying lies to you in my name? I have not sent them.
It's Mark Sayers contention and mine as well that as the church in the west enters this time of Exile. It's not a matter of two years from now or five years from now or ten years from now things will be as they should. That were entering a new chapter in the life of the church in the west that there's a new world around us and new realities that aren't going to change overnight in aren't going to change quickly and yet God still has a plan and still has a call or his people. And I believe that as we go forward in this series in Jeremiah that one of the things we'll see that is that God's love letters for his people in the Old Testament can serve as an encouragement another challenge for us today to as love letters for God's people in 2019. That's my intense going forward with this series Love Letters to the church in Exile looking specifically at Jeremiah until this morning. We're going to begin by looking at Jeremiah chapter 1 and we're just going to read the first 10 verses of Jeremiah 1 The words of Jeremiah son of hilkiah one of the priests at anathoth in the territory of Benjamin. The word of the Lord came to him in the Thirteenth Year of the reign of Josiah son of a man king of Judah and through the reign of jehoiakim. The son of Josiah king of Judah down to the 5th month of the 11th year of zedekiah, son of Josiah king of Judah when the people of Jerusalem went into exile. What Jeremiah is doing is giving us an introduction to his life and his call from the Lord and he's giving us a reference points that he served his prophetic career over the course of three kings and Israel from that really the height of the divided Kingdom. After Israel had been divided into Israel and Judah you serve from from the wealth of the Kingdom in in the reign of Josiah all the way until the Lord carried his people into Exile first first Israel into Exile in Assyria, and then Judah into Exile in Babylon.
And so he says he continues the word of the Lord came to me saying before I formed you in the womb I knew you before you were born. I set you apart. I anointed you as appointed you as a prophet to the Nations. I last Sovereign Lord. I said Jeremiah speaking here. I do not know how to speak. I am too young. But the Lord said to me do not say I am too young. You must go to everyone I send you and say whatever I command you don't be afraid of them for I am with you and will rescue you declares the Lord. And the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me. I have put your my words in your mouth. See today. I appoint you over Nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down to destroy and overthrow. to build and to plant
those last that last verse should give us pause. I think we think about it God appointing Jeremiah to uproot and tear down to destroy and overthrow images of destruction of death. of ruin but also hope to build and to plant
we really want to understand Jeremiah then we need to understand the story of the Bible. Jeremiah like a many of the Old Testament prophets is filled with judgement filled with such as those last versus said Doom and Gloom ruin destruction uprooting. Filled with God's judgement of the saint of his people. I many times because we don't understand the story of scripture. We don't understand the Old Testament. We don't understand this is this is the answer in shorts to the many questions that many of us have about all the pain and judgment and killing in the Old Testament. The beginning of that of an answer to those questions is to understand the bigger story in the place that those smaller stories play in the larger story. In her book spiritual disciplines Adele Calhoun says that she says God is love God loves children and adults. He loves Democrats and Republicans. He loves old people young people good people and bad people straight people in gay people. God loves everyone. He loves gossips and peacemakers terrorists and doctors law enforcement officers and anarchists God's love for us never ends.
That's the story of scripture the story of the Bible that God's love for his people never ends.
And so also that's the story of the Old Testament God's redeeming love through punishment through rebuke, but also through enticement and enticing to bring his people back to him through his never-ending love. Not a love characterized by niceness and always giving bratty little children what they want. I love that includes punishment and includes from time to time hard hard words. and discipline
understand the story of Jeremiah. We need to understand the story of scripture and I've stolen this basic plot structure from Google Images online. I imagine it came from probably an overworked and underpaid teacher who nonetheless did a very good job. This is the basic plot structure of any and every story. Any story that's worth reading is including the story of the Bible has these five aspects these five movements in it the exposition or the introduction where characters are introduced. We understand the setting in the goals and what's going on. in the rising action where there's an initial conflict something is wrong but struggles there's
Also initial movement back to where the goal are the are the journey that the story will take then there's a climax or turning point the point where we understand the end and we understand how everything's going to come together. just followed by falling action of sort of aftermath of results of working out of that Climax and then the resolution Where the problem the conflict brings to an end? There's there's a new way forward and everything is resolved. Scripture like every other story has these five movements in it. And the Old Testament that fits right into that rising action area. Where there are conflict their struggles sin entered the world the initial conflict. And then throughout the Old Testament before Jesus the person and work of Jesus, which is the climax of The Story of scripture. We see the working out of this rising action in the in the journey from the recognition of the problem to what will be its the climax in the solution.
Spending so much time on this on understanding the story and understanding our place within it because our Jeremiah's place within and our place because we need to see that it's really in the climax that we both make sense of what has gone before the rising action. And we make sense of what follows afterwards a climax for any story is the key to unlocking the rest of the book the rest of the story in the story of the Bible the rest of History. It's always we begin to look at the book of Jeremiah. We need to see this as leading and pointing got people toward their ultimate Redemption a climax in Jesus. And it says if we accept my premise that the church again is entering into a time of Exile in the west then we need to see that too as a working out and aftermath are working out of the of the results of Christ's life and death and Resurrection. In other words, if it's true that all of this is one big story, but even Exile is part of God's good plan all along. Exile for Jeremiah for the people of Judah and Israel and also exile for us today, whatever that may look like. And this is actually what scripture teaches us scripture after Jesus think take for example of fusions chapter 4 Christ himself. Gave the apostles the prophets the Evangelist the pastors and teachers to equip his people for works of service so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature attaining to the whole measure and fullness of Christ.
I think about those words as we apply them to the story the story even of the Old Testament the rising action on the conflict of God's people let into exile. Our focus is not going to be most of those what are sometimes called five-fold Ministries Apostles prophets evangelists pastors and teachers. Are we really going to be focusing on prophets Prophet Jeremiah and your Paul infusion says that Christ himself gave the prophets to equip God's people or works of service. That the body of Christ may be built up. And we all might breach unity in faith and in knowledge and become mature. Stephen scripture itself testifies to the fact that that this excuse me. At the center of the story the climax of the story is what's necessary to help us understand both what went before and was come afterward.
Cuz we think about Jeremiah is rising action in the Old Testament, the prophetic career of the man sometimes called the weeping prophet weeping because he sees all of his real sin because he sees God's punishment because he doesn't see an end. Everything about all this it's important for us to understand what it means to be a prophet. And so I want to spend just a few minutes on that. A profit does two things one of which we think about for the most part a profit for tails and a profit fourth tails. A smaller job of the Prophet but that the job that we think of most often in almost immediately when we think about prophecy is that is that a fourth telling or for telling excuse me that a prophet tells the truth about the future. Whether it's Nostradamus making predictions or or any of the Old Testament prophets, maybe you even think of of Jonah is the prophet who comes to mind for me, right? If you know one thing from Jonah's prophetic career than you know, these words for more days and Nineveh will be destroyed. Or telling telling the truth about the future about what's going to happen. And usually it's not good news.
Part of what it means to be a prophet is actually not about foretelling. The heart of what it means to be a prophet is about forth telling it's not telling the truth about the future but telling the truth about the present. Telling the truth about the world the way it is. This is what the prophets all throughout the Old Testament did. See the prophets understood as they that as they listen to God that they would hear truth from him about themselves. I want to listen to God they would be able to share his truth and share it with others. And that's at its core. What a profit does he or she listens to the father and shares his words with others. the Old Testament prophets understood that listening to the father meant that they would hear truth not just about themselves as individuals that they with your truth about their the world that they live in also that they would understand deeper truths about who God is 5 character about the way that that he created the world to work. To all throughout the Old Testament what we see more often than anything else is the prophets saying if you continue in your sin, if you continue to turn away from the Lord if you continue to reject him. And you will be punished. And you will suffer. And is a part of that that often leads right into for telling. And some some Nation will come and punish you or the Assyrians will come the Babylonians will calm your enemies will come. At its core prophecy is about understanding the way the world works. Where did God made it to work, but about understanding that in ruins the way the world is supposed to be ruins the way that our lives are supposed to be that's why James says watch out for your desires because your desires will lead you into sin and sin when it is full-grown leads to death.
What's a prophetic statement about what's true about the world and all of us know that that's in when it is full-grown always leads to death. You don't have to be able to tell the future to know that that's what's going to happen. Because that's the way the world works. And likewise when we turn to God when we are obedient to him, he feels us and leads us into flourishing. It blesses us. God says to his people in the Book of Micah scuse me.
He says give me a ties. Give me 10% from your Barnes. Trust me in this and see if I do not pour out so much blessing that you do not have room enough and your barns to hold it. prophetic words from the Lord not about what will happen in the future. Not just about what will happen in the future. But about the way the world Works about the way the world the way God created his creation to work and the way he created us to live. and again if we're going to understand Jeremiah if we're going to understand the prophets and if we're going to understand their place in our life today that we have to understand that biblical prophecy real prophecy is part of it is about forth telling during what the father saying and sharing it with others truth about our world about God how God created us to live who God created us to be and what flourishing looks like. And this is true about the book of Jeremiah as well. Getting sacked in Jeremiah. What we are going to see is that Jeremiah's prophecies is foretelling. The future for Jeremiah is the past for us. But in fact what it what Jeremiah says about his future in the people of Israel's future is actually of little used to us.
but the fourth telling the truth that Jeremiah tells about the way the world is the the way God created his people to be In the past to the good life, that's true today as true today as it was then.
going forward with this one story the story of God's great love for his people the rising action in the Old Testament and the falling action in the New Testament in the church today that's tied together by the climax of Jesus. Going forth with that one story in believing that this is one story of God's love for his people. We can see a parallel today in the life of the old gods people in the Old Testament in the life of God's people in the new. Jeremiah as I said at the beginning prophesied beginning at the height of the wealth of the divided Kingdom and not in the reign of Josiah when Israel was rich and wealthy when they had many nations bringing tribute to them. And over the course of about fifty years of Jeremiah's prophetic career. What happened was that all of that turned around and in fact Israel became not having people pay tribute to them. Israel was conquered by Babylon begin paying tribute to Babylon and then when they refused were let into Exile into Babylon. In 50 years that the world of God's Old Testament people turned upside down and they were led into this new and foreign land where their Customs were not celebrated where their God was not recognized or people didn't see or believe the truth that they believed about the world. And we can see that same parallel today and I want to read what will probably be the longest quote. You'll ever hear me read during a sermon about 200 words. What is the quote from this book by Mark Sayers? He says we're not in Exile in the same way that Israel was while living in Babylon Babylon was a culture in the sway of the elemental forces. Its entire culture built around a specific form of religious worship. Israel was the same butt shaped by Temple and Tora Guided by God the kingdom of God was still a hidden secret only hinted that experience in glimpses. The Messiah the coming King. Hope for was Pine for and prayed for but had not yet fully come or not yet arrived. Excuse me, the spirit of God falling at times but only on some was sporadic and temporary and his visitations the fundamental building blocks of the universe. The elemental forces had not changed. But with Christ appearing everything changed the Messiah had come the promises of the profits have been fulfilled. The kingdom was now an Open Secret to climax makes a difference Spirit now constant guide and companion became available to all who had been there need to Christ the fundamental elements of the universe had been irrevocably changed. No longer is the temple the center of the biblical Universe no longer to the people of God Pine for the Shekinah Glory to return to the temple instead as Paul writes to the Ephesians the people of God filled with the spirit of Christ as their Cornerstone God's household of which Christians are members Rises to become a holy Temple of the Lord dwelling in which God Lives by his spirit. This is a post Elemental. Force of Faith this Exile today cannot be the same. We cannot simply sit back and wait for God to end our cultural Exile aiming to flourish the work. The victory is won. The game has changed a new era is here. Is Heavenly citizens we exist in a kind of Exile, but in a different Epoch that's deserving of a different missional posture. Yes, we're called a flourish, but we are also called to go into spiritual war against the powers and principalities now humiliated on the cross by Christ. There's a key Nuance here flourishing needs a fight against the flesh. We find meaning not in the promises of our achievement culture not against the flesh but in the battle against that which is not God conflict that takes on a personal Dimension as we battle the flesh Within. Any references Thomas a kempis a medieval Christian author who even five six hundred years ago is saying the same thing. This is good for us to encounter troubles and adversity from time to time for trouble often compels a man to search his own heart. It reminds him that he is in Exile here. He can put his trust in nothing in the world.
and then Mark Sayers comments that she says history and Jesus is fundamentally altered and now Slants towards its fulfillment in Christ uniting of Earth and Heaven at the End of the Age. This is ours is an exile with an eternal dimension. Ours is an exile with an eternal dimension. I hope all that reading was helpful.
If it's true. That we are a part of the same story that God has been writing since the beginning the story of his love for his people and if it's true that even in Exile even in punishment that God's goal is to return his people to himself. Then there is a profound opportunity for us as God's people today. Because if it's true that we are entering an exile of sorts once again and Exile with any Turtle dimension. Then we can be sure that our fathers intent is not simply to punish his people. Not simply to hold the sins of the past over our heads for a few hundred years until we learn our lesson.
For the purpose of the father is to draw his people back to himself once again. 2 reunites his people with his love and his love story. To invite his people into a deeper relationship with him. to recognize and even to celebrate the ways in which Christians are distinct from the world around us not because it makes us not because we are better than others. But because God's love makes us different from a world that is dying all around us.
God's love letters to a church in in Exile both then and now fill us with hope for the future. They also challenged the present speaking words of truth through the prophets to who we are and what we are today. Some of you will recognize this image from past sermon series a picture that I've used before to describe Jesus life is perfect upward relationship. He had with his father the n-word relationship when he had with his disciples the community around him and the outward relationship he had with the world. But even in the climax in Jesus, we see most clearly how God designed us to live. But even as we look back into the Old Testament, we see that these three dimensions are a part of life the way that God intended us to live it. And what we will see as in an in the coming weeks is that God's critiques for his people are always in one of these three directions they fail to worship him to recognize him his father turn away from him as king.
Do you not care for the widows for the orphans for the people in their community? And in their midst people who are part of the same spiritual family? And they refused to be a light on a light on on a hill. A light to the Nations. Excuse me. I refuse to be a city on the hill. They refuse to be a blessing to the world around them. See what we see most most clearly and sharply and Jesus in the in the climax. We see already in the Old Testament as well and God's judgement against these people. And so to God calls us as as we work out the implications of the climax. He calls us to follow him in these three dimensions. As we enter the new year as we stand at the top and look out to what is ahead. I want to challenge you as we close this morning as we look ahead to Jeremiah 2 2019 What is your app look like? Where is your relationship with the father?
Where's our relationship with the father? What is your in look like? What are you a part of the Covenant Community? You care for for those less fortunate and even for the more fortunate do we really love each other as a community in and serve and care for in and sharing our life together. Or do we just happen to sit across the aisle from each other once a week or so? and what about
You really are you really internalized the truth of the Gospel that you are blessed to be a blessing. You really believe that that God has blessed you with so many so much financial prosperity that you're more than enough that you can give the first 10% to him was a great challenge to start a new year. Do you really believe that you have so much time and space and energy that God has taken care of everything you need so that you can share your time so that you can share your space. So you can share your joy the others.
This is the challenge for us as we begin to dig deeper into these Love Letters to the church in Exile. What do our lives look like?
There is far more to say but we've said more than enough already today. Someone invites you to close in prayer with me.
Father we have already confessed our sin together this morning. Are we haven't measured up to your perfect standard? And the truth of it is just like your Old Testament people we never will. In our own strength, we will never be perfect in an until you come in return as King in and bring bring an end to sin bring an end to Death. Until the end of the story Lord we never will love you or serve you perfectly. But we celebrate once again that we live on this side of the climax. That in Jesus we see that perfect example. How to live our lives in perfect Unity with you and that through the Holy Spirit your Holy Spirit given to us. We have the power the ability to to come before you. To meet you in your holy presence to call you father. And we have the ability and then even the desire to love each other to care for each other. And that we have a deep joy and hope and celebration that allows us to stand on a hill to be a light to the world around us. Father we know that we have been blessed to be a blessing. And so, thank you. As we begin this new year begin recognizing that all the glory all the praise all the honor goes to you. We thank you in Jesus name.